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Insights | Citizens on patrol - Technology and the future of fighting crime

AUGUST 2018 | by Felicity Niemann and Alison Brookman

  • Littering prosecution
  • Reporting of offence via app
  • Evidentiary provision

The EPA via its 'Dob in a Litterer' program has received over 1600 reports of littering since commencement of the Local Nuisance and Litter Control Act 2016 last year. Of those reports, 1042 expiation notices have issued resulting in a few successful prosecutions. The EPA has generated $316,910 in the expiation values alone. 

The success of the scheme has occurred largely as a result of the 'Dob in a Litterer' phone app. The scheme essentially uses the eyes and the ears of the public to witness and report on instances of littering that would otherwise go unreported.

Dolan v Yates was a prosecution that went to trial in the ERD Court in June this year. It is the first example of evidence received from a citizen's notification (via the app) being relied upon in Court.

The Local Nuisance and Litter Control Act 2016 (Act) vests local councils as "the principle authority for dealing with local nuisance and littering in its area". In relation to littering the EPA has devised the 'Dob in a Litterer' program supported by an app. The evidentiary provisions in the Act support electronic reporting by citizens who witness littering.

In Dolan v Yates, two eye witnesses in a car behind the defendant's, saw the driver in front throw a cigarette butt from his car. The passenger witness used the EPA app on her phone to take a photo of the defendant's car and report the littering. Both the witnesses, driver and passenger, gave evidence at the trial.  According to the EPA, cigarette butts are the main contributor of the litter stream at 43%. The majority of citizen notifications using the app are for the dumping of cigarette butts, which currently stands at 79%. 

The defendant pleaded not guilty, though he admitted that the car was his and he was the driver. He said that it was not his habit to throw cigarette butts from his car; the two witnesses for the defendant supported his statement, however were unable to give evidence on what happened on the day.

Judge Costello accepted that the defendant was honest and genuinely believed that he would not have thrown the butt from his car, and that he had no recollection of doing so. However, the Judge was satisfied that on this occasion the defendant had committed the offence. He was fined $750 plus levy and costs. The maximum penalty for the offence involving general litter of less than 50 litres is $5000; it may be expiated.

This case is an example of the use of technology, supported in the relevant legislation, to report offences. The particular provisions in the Act, and shown in this case, apply only to litter thrown from a vehicle. Not all littering will be disposed of from a vehicle.

'General litter' is defined in the Act to include a variety of waste matter such as cigarette butts, chewing gum, food, and packaging; but it also includes furniture, dead animals, vehicles, garden clippings, clothing and other matters sometimes seen disposed onto nature strips in residential areas. Litter such as this will more likely be the responsibility of the local council as the EPA views this illegal dumping as a smaller scale, or a form of kerbside littering.

Of interest is the 'citizen's notification' evidentiary provision in s25 of the Act. This provides that such notification may be electronic and so encompasses the app to dob in a litterer, but also includes the physical reporting of a littering incident. A prescribed form is contained in schedule 1 of the Local Nuisance and Litter Control Regulations 2017.

Section 25(2) states that the citizen's notification constitutes evidence of the matters contained in the notification.

This technology has the potential to have a multi-purpose function and change the future of regulatory enforcement by all government entities, including councils. The potential to change the way that council officers collect evidence on offences relating to car parking, building and development, dog and cat management, environmental health and food; is significant. The 'Dob in a Litterer' app is just the beginning.

Disclaimer

The content of this newsletter is for general information purposes only and should in no way be treated as formal legal advice.